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by Karen Darner — January 29, 2015 at 1:20 pm 522 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Karen DarnerArlington lost a pillar of progressive strength on Jan. 8 when Charles Washington Rinker Jr. passed away.

Fortunately, before his passing, Charlie and his wife Lora (co-founder and longtime Executive Director of the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network or A-SPAN) were honored at a reception hosted by AHC “for their leadership and devotion to the Arlington community and their contributions to affordable housing and community development.”

At the reception, state Sen. Barbara Favola presented resolutions from the Virginia General Assembly honoring the life’s work of Charlie and Lora.

Charlie’s legacy was captured in the following remarks delivered by Karen Darner, former Virginia House of Delegates, at the Celebration of the Life of Charlie Rinker held at Rock Spring Congregational UCC on Jan. 18.

Remembering Charlie

Fifty years ago Charlie and I attended a quadrennial conference of the Methodist Student Movement in Lincoln, Nebraska. I only realized that when I re-read my notes from the conference 20 years later and told Charlie. Small world!

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., was the keynote speaker and Charlie was to introduce him. Another Movement officer wanted to have that honor, so Charlie deferred to her — sounds like him, doesn’t it?

So he may have deferred to another that day, but we all know that when it came to civil rights and social and economic justice here in Arlington, Charlie never gave up until the job was done. Advocacy was his middle name.

Charlie was involved in a number of activities in Arlington, and even ran for the County Board. I think Mary Margaret Whipple said it best — “We may have lost the election, but we won the campaign.” Yes, Arlington began to learn more about this gentle man who brought people together to find real life practical solutions to problems the county would face.

The immediate problem became housing.

Arlington’s “location, location, location” made it ripe for extraordinary redevelopment and our apartment stock quickly began disappearing from the rental category. The community that prided itself on living and working in Arlington was losing the “living” component because of rising rents and decreasing units. It happened to tenants everywhere and tenants were afforded very little respect. Charlie, by contrast, exuded respect for everyone. Moreover, the diversity Arlington championed as a treasure was slipping away. That was unacceptable.

The easiest way to summarize what Charlie and others instigated is to look at the organizations that have been requested as beneficiaries in lieu of flowers. If an organization has the word “housing” in it, Charlie’s fingerprints are all over it.

I like to think of all of them as the Home Team. Their names say it all…

The Arlington Housing Corporation — now AHC — produces, preserves, manages and finances affordable rental and owner-occupied housing. It offers educational services to strengthen residents’ economic and social stability. The latter helps to ensure people can continue to live in their new housing.

Arlington Home Ownership Made Easier — or A-Home — seeks to increase the number of low and moderate income and minority households that are able to purchase homes here.

Buyers and Renters Arlington Voice — or BRAVO — has a significant mission of empowering renters: giving them a voice, and often in several languages.  (more…)

by Peter Rousselot — January 29, 2015 at 1:00 pm 1,263 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotSeveral months ago, I wrote a column in which I concluded that Arlington Public Schools has failed to meet its burden to prove that it is ready to implement a plan to put a tablet in the hands of every student.

APS still has not met that burden.

For this plan to succeed, APS must demonstrate that it has credible YES answers to ALL of these questions:

  • Does APS have a long-term instructional vision for what this plan is intended to accomplish?
  • Does APS have a long-term budget to train staff to implement its long-term instructional vision?
  • Does APS have a long-term budget to replace the devices?
  • Given all the other priorities APS must weigh, has this 1:1 plan been assigned a high enough priority to receive the funding it requires to be successful?
  • Has APS obtained transparent feedback from all stakeholders with respect to its long-term instructional vision, its long-term budget to implement it, and the priority the 1:1 plan has been assigned?

In a helpful article, Alan November — an educational technology consultant — framed the challenge APS faces as follows:

[W]hile one-to-one computing might work as a marketing slogan…, it is a simplistic and short-sighted phrase… Adding a digital device to the classroom without a fundamental change in the culture of teaching and learning will not lead to significant improvement. …[I]t’s essential to craft a vision that giving every student a digital device must lead to achievements beyond what we can accomplish with paper. Otherwise, let’s just stick with the original one-to-one program: one No. 2 pencil per student.

Has APS addressed adequately the challenge Alan November posed?

This is what the APS website currently has to say:

Every school in the system is conducting a pilot which is focused on identifying instructional best practices which leverage personalization. These best practices will be woven into teacher professional development and the full project implementation over the upcoming years.

An accompanying paper on digital learning makes certain promises (pages 8-10) regarding these subjects. These include promises that a Digital Learning Steering Committee will develop a plan that will:

  • Provide instructional support
  • Provide and implement a short and long range professional development strategy
  • Provide guidance on technology and curriculum integration
  • Provide guidance to develop policy related to personalized digital learning

Conclusion

This plan needs to be:

  • created,
  • vetted and reviewed by all APS stakeholders,
  • transparently shared with the public, and receive strong public support.

Until all of the above steps are completed, we don’t know whether this plan will succeed.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Mark Kelly — January 29, 2015 at 12:15 pm 775 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyWe may never know the content of the conversation between Jay Fisette and Mary Hynes that caused them to ultimately arrive at their votes to cancel the Columbia Pike trolley. However, it looks like the Board may still be split 3-2.

By all accounts, Democrat Libby Garvey should be up for Board Chair or Vice Chair. She was elected in a 2012 special election when Mary Hynes last chaired the Board. Hynes was followed in the middle seat by Tejada, then Fisette. Yet, Garvey was passed over this year to give those spots to Hynes and Tejada.

With Tejada’s announcement yesterday that he would not seek re-election, it is possible the move was a final nod to his service from his colleagues. It certainly explains why he remained defiant over his trolley vote. But, it is worth watching whether Democrats will ever accept Garvey back into the fold.

It is also worth noting that the father of the trolley, Chris Zimmerman, has remained strangely silent on its demise. Maybe Zimmerman saw the writing on the wall before he left the Board a year ago. He certainly was astute enough to jump off the Metro Board before it began a series of drastic rate hikes and service reductions.

Speaking of considering your political future, next week’s meeting of Arlington Democrats may see Hynes announce her electoral intentions for 2015. Her reversal on the trolley points to another run, particularly since Tejada’s pending departure opens up a seat for ambitious Democrats looking to run.

One Republican relayed to me recently that he thought it would be tough for a non-Democrat to win another race in Arlington without the trolley and the aquatics center to run against. My response: three of the same people who thought those projects were a good idea are still there — at least for the rest of this year. So, the penchant for putting the taxpayers on the hook for vanity projects still holds a majority on the Board. Voters were satisfied with the Vihstadt test run on the Board and elected him to a full term. They may be ready for another independent voice.

The County Board agreed to a revenue sharing agreement with the School Board. It reads like a lot of common sense, but it is not groundbreaking. Schools, public safety, roads and other basic infrastructure needs are the key spending priorities for any local budget. At around $22,000 per child, when you don’t “exclude” certain spending, maybe we ought to focus more time talking about how the schools are spending the dollars they already receive.

And finally, if you live near Reagan National Airport, you watched the County narrow a portion of S. Eads Street from two lanes in each direction to one. If the Board’s goal was to create more traffic congestion during rush hour and cause drivers to consider making use of neighborhood streets instead of a more major thoroughfare, then congratulations are in order.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by ARLnow.com — January 29, 2015 at 10:15 am 1,607 0

Capital Bikeshare station at S. Eads Street and 23rd Street S. (Flickr photo by Euan Fisk) Previous configuration at S. Eads Street and 23rd Street S. (photo via Google Maps)

Over on Greater Greater Washington, a mini debate is raging in the comments section about whether this Capital Bikeshare station (pictured, left) in Crystal City is a good idea.

It’s located on S. Eads Street at 23rd Street S, in what was previously a shared bike lane and vehicle travel lane (albeit one with a CaBi station on the side of the road). Now, the lane consists only of a protected bike lane and an in-street Capital Bikeshare station.

In support of the station, some say it has improved safety for cyclists while keeping the station off of the sidewalk. Also, it prevents conflict among drivers when two cars heading straight have to abruptly merge into one lane at the end of the intersection.

Those arguing against the station say it reduces lines of sight, making it harder for drivers to see cyclists and pedestrians crossing the intersection. It also is vulnerable to an errant driver and eliminates a lane used by cars turning onto 23rd Street. Finally, those returning and checking out bikes at the station may come into conflict with those using the bike lane.

Do you like or dislike the placement of the station?

Flickr photo (left) by Euan Fisk. Photo (right) via Google Maps.

by ARLnow.com Sponsor — January 27, 2015 at 3:00 pm 1,936 0

Ask Adam Real Living header

This regularly-scheduled sponsored Q&A column is written by Adam Gallegos, Arlington-based real estate broker, voted one of Arlington Magazine’s Best Realtors of 2013 & 2014. Please submit your questions via email.

Q. I can’t seem to find a real definition of a bedroom for Arlington County. I purchased a condo in Clarendon a few years ago that was marketed as a 2 bedroom/1.5 bathroom. Arlington property records and the original floor plan call it a den. Upon refinancing my mortgage, the appraiser told me it can’t be considered a two-bedroom unit. Luckily, the appraisal still came back where I expected, but it was still quite a surprise. A Google search gave me some general guidelines of which my unit meets all (mainly number of entrances, methods of egress, minimum square footage, HVAC), but each noted that the definition varies by local jurisdiction. What are the rules in Arlington?

A. Before getting out my tape measure and calculator, the things I normally look for to initially determine if a room is a bedroom are the following: an egress large enough for a fireman to exit the home with all of his/her equipment, heating, ventilation and a reasonable size.

For a more technical overview of how a bedroom is defined in Arlington, you can consult the 2012 Virginia State Building Code. This is the standard that Arlington has followed since July 14, 2014. I’ll paraphrase some of the pertinent items that apply, below.

Egress – Every sleeping room shall have at least one operable emergency escape and rescue opening. The emergency escape shall have a sill height of not more than 44 inches measured from the finished floor to the bottom of the clear opening. The minimum horizontal area of the window well shall be 9 square feet with a minimum horizontal projection and width of 36 inches. Emergency escape and rescue openings shall open directly into a public way, or to a yard or court that opens to a public way. Window wells with a vertical depth greater than 44 inches shall be equipped with a permanently affixed ladder or steps.

Bedroom size – Habitable rooms shall not be less than 7 feet in any horizontal dimension with a ceiling height of not less than 7 feet.

Heating and ventilation – All habitable rooms shall have an aggregate glazing area (windows) of not less than 8 percent of the floor area of such rooms. Natural ventilation shall be through operable windows, doors, louvers or other approved openings to the outdoor air. Every dwelling unit shall be provided with heating facilities capable of maintaining a minimum room temperature of 68 degrees. Portable space heaters do not qualify.

Closets — Despite popular belief, closets are not required by the building code when defining a bedroom.

If you are still not sure whether you have a bedroom or not, you may want to consult an Arlington County code official.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

by Mark Kelly — January 22, 2015 at 1:45 pm 691 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyUnless the County Board acts to lower the tax rate, and they should, the average homeowner’s bill will increase by $270 this year.

Think it is not much to complain about?

Just three years ago the average single-family residence was valued at $519,400. Today it is $579,800. The average out of pocket increase over that time is slated to come in at $550.

What does $550 a year mean to a family? Here is one example. If a young family had a child in 2012 and could save that amount every year, they could save over $10,000 to pay for college with moderate interest.

Unsurprisingly, the County’s press release announcing a $270 increased average residential tax bill noted the so-called budget gap to cover projected expenditures. This is what we could call the “we know it seems like a lot, but we actually need more” gambit. It is the same line we hear every year.

We start hearing about the gap during the budget guidance process in November. It is reinforced when property tax assessments come out. Then, in every public statement about the fiscal year budget process.

The gap is what the County Board relies on to sway residents to believe they need to pay more for county services. More to bailout the Signature Theatre. More to pay for the next boondoggle project like the Artisphere or trolley.

The gap is also what the County Board uses to say they made “tough budget decisions.”

It is actually quite audacious to talk about a projected funding gap during the same Board meeting you are spending the previous year’s surplus. But, the Board did just that again in November.

The County admitted once again that revenues came in higher than estimated last year — $31.8 million higher. This is in addition to millions that were not actually spent, even though they were projected to be spent.

In other words, there was no funding gap last year because all of the projections were wrong — even with expenditures going out the door for the trolley and Artisphere. They were wrong in such a way that caused us to ultimately spend and pay more, not less. This is just like every year in recent memory. You can go to county website and search “closeout” for every year for proof we never really have a funding gap.

Now that we have cleared some of the shiny objects out of the budget, it is time for a serious County Board candidate to emerge who wants to dig even deeper into County revenue and spending. County residents deserve someone who will shed light on the revenue estimating process and help put an end to the myth of the funding gap.

In the meantime, maybe the question for County Board members during the budget process this spring should be, how much of the $550 annual tax bill you have tacked on the past three years do you actually need?

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Larry Roberts — January 22, 2015 at 1:00 pm 518 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Larry RobertsAs Arlington County embarks in 2015 upon the “Arlington Community Facilities Study — a Plan for the Future,” there are echoes to two past Arlington initiatives that charted successful paths forward that served the County for decades, brought the community together, and provided opportunities for Arlington residents to learn more about their County and become more involved in civic life.

The Arlington Public Schools Futures Planning Process of the early 1990s identified a set of community values to guide our public school system. In addition to setting out those values, the Futures Report built upon the notions that: to pursue a high quality education, students require appropriate classroom space; and we must ensure that all Arlington students receive high quality instruction.

Arlington’s blend of urban corridors and strong residential neighborhoods resulted from a mid-1970′s initiative known as the Long Range County Improvement Program (“LRCIP”). Through that initiative, a divided County achieved a consensus that guided Arlington’s revitalization, growth and development through successive periods of Democratic-endorsed, Republican, and Democratic majority County Boards.

LRCIP Committee Chairman Joe Wholey, who served three times as County Board Chairman, remains an Arlington resident active in community life.

Our interview with Joe will form the basis of a series of Progressive Voice columns during this year when County residents again have the opportunity to work together on charting a successful path forward for our County.

Progressive Voice: Why was LRCIP organized?

Joe Wholey: Joe Fisher (then a County Board colleague and later elected to the U.S. House of Representatives) and I wanted to look beyond the day-to-day government activities. We wanted a process that would set realistic goals and attend to likely costs and revenues. By calling it the Long Range County Improvement Program we meant that anything you could do in the next budget was not eligible; rather, we looked at a 2-20 year planning horizon.

PV: What motivated you to consider LRCIP?

Joe WholeyJW: Metro was coming. Arlington had already decided to align new high-density development with the Metro stations and preserve most of the rest of the County pretty much as it had been. We looked at what we could do within walking distance of those stations. Our supporters were slow growth or no growth people. That was an option we explored. We also explored development under existing zoning; intensive commercial development (office buildings and hotels); and intensive residential development (high-rise apartment buildings). Arlington was losing population in those days, commercial areas like Parkington (now Ballston) were going under and people were shopping instead in Fairfax County. We had problems, but with Metro coming, we had the opportunity to explore how best to respond to diminishing population, shrinking school enrollment, and declining commercial areas.

PV: How did your Committee gather input?

JW: We had 10 committee members who worked with long-range planning staff dedicated to the committee, consultants, and other resources to put before the public a set of facts and realistic projections. By the spring of 1975, we had already started publishing “The Citizen,” and we devoted an entire issue to information on community services and public needs; land use trends; housing prices and rents; population trends; school enrollment; employment; transportation; tax levels; and costs for public services and capital improvements. We announced a series of over 50 community meetings to let people know what was going on. We also provided ways for residents to get additional information and provide input over a two-month period.

We then completed a draft report. After the County Board held public hearings, we revised the program in response to citizen input. For example, the Board scaled back some proposed development in the Clarendon area. The County Board adopted the program later in 1975.

PV: What do you see in the County making it worthwhile to try something similar now?

JW: We need to come back together even where we disagree. I think that is attainable. After all, our supporters at the time were slow growth/no growth people but came to see the wisdom of intense development near the Metro stations to produce new revenues and thereby restrain taxes on existing residences. I applaud the idea of trying to get a fractured community — advocates for schools, parks, affordable housing, business and other causes — back together to move the county ahead. They are all good people and we can accommodate their goals if we work together, keep an open mind, and explore our options creatively in a time of limited resources.

Joe Wholey is former three-time Chairman of the Arlington County Board. His interviewer, Larry Roberts, is former Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee and also served in state government as Counselor to the Governor.

by Peter Rousselot — January 22, 2015 at 12:15 pm 1,629 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotNow — not “mid-2015″ — is the time to cut bait on the extravagant $80+ million vanity project known as the Arlington Aquatics Center.

According to Deputy County Manager Mark Schwartz, despite the loss of potential new funding associated with the 2024 Summer Olympics, “Arlington is ‘still committed’ to building the Long Bridge Aquatics and Fitness Center ‘without any new taxpayer funds.’”

To the contrary, Arlington should not spend one more dime of any new — or old — taxpayer funds to build this gold-plated project. This decision should be made now — during the County’s upcoming FY 2016 operating budget review process — not in “mid-2015″ as Schwartz suggests.

The estimated annual operating subsidy for the Aquatics Center, as currently designed, has skyrocketed from $450,000 in 2011 to almost $4 million today. Discussing the Aquatics Center’s fate in conjunction with the FY2016 operating budget review will help the public answer questions like these: Where should budget cuts likely be made? How much would the tax rate have to increase to cover this swimming palace’s projected $4 million annual cost?

The Aquatics Center also is relevant now because it is already costing us money even though the project’s construction is “on hold.” Some Aquatics Center funds already have been borrowed and are sitting unused. We are paying interest on this debt out of current Arlington County operating funds. Because the project remains on hold, this money cannot be reallocated to construct neighborhood community pools on the Long Bridge site or elsewhere. This money cannot be used to perform long-deferred maintenance at other parks or to purchase additional parkland.

Scrapping this project’s current design and redirecting the funds to other pressing community needs like new community pools would NOT violate Arlington voters’ will. Although voters twice approved large park bond issues (portions of which were intended to fund this project), those votes now have little persuasive value for two reasons:

  1. Voters weren’t allowed to vote on a bond issue for the Aquatics Center as a separate line item on the ballot (isolated from other park spending), and
  2. Voters who approved either or both of the two park bonds weren’t aware of the Aquatics Center’s $4 million estimated annual operating subsidy.

Given Arlington’s forecasted population growth, we are definitely going to need more community pools and recreational space. With just 8.1 park acres per 1,000 residents, Arlington has less park space than D.C., Boston, New York City and other high-density communities. It may make sense for one or more new community pools to be co-located with a middle school and/or community center.

Conclusion

All of the money currently on hold for the Aquatics Center should be redirected now to more pressing community needs.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Peter Rousselot — January 15, 2015 at 1:45 pm 401 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotThe new Women’s Equality Coalition (WEC) launched last week. WEC is a promising initiative to improve Virginia women’s lives.

The founding members of WEC include ProgressVA, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, League of Women Voters of Virginia, the Virginia Chapter of the National Organization for Women, the Virginia Latina Advocacy Network, Women Matter, and the American Association of University Women of Virginia.

WEC believes that women and girls everywhere deserve an equal opportunity to participate fully in civic, economic, and political life irrespective of race, class, income, immigration status, disability, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or involvement with the criminal justice system.

WEC supports all Virginia women’s ability to:

  • Decide when and if to have a family and access the full range of health services necessary to support that decision without interference from government, organizations, or individuals;
  • Secure the education and resources necessary to support and better themselves and their families without sacrificing economic security;
  • Live, work, and attend school free from intimidation, abuse, discrimination, harassment, and violence;
  • Understand how the political process affects them personally and be empowered and motivated to participate and make their voices heard.

WEC initially will concentrate on three legislative areas: health and safety, economic opportunity, and democratic participation.

WEC’s 2015 Legislative Agenda

Health and Safety

  • Repeal mandatory ultrasound and waiting period prior to an abortion (SB733 Locke)
  • Close the coverage gap
  • Protect contraception access
  • Provide unemployment benefits for victims of domestic violence who are forced to leave their job (HB 1430 Herring)

Economic Opportunity

  • Establish universal paid sick days
  • Equal pay (SB772 McEachin)
  • Raise the minimum wage (SB681 Marsden)
  • Ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (SJ216 Ebbin and HJ495 Surovell)

Democratic Participation

  • Establish no-excuse in-person voting (SB677 Howell)
  • Nonpartisan redistricting

Support for WEC

Virginia

  • Public officials from across Virginia, including Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring have endorsed the WEC agenda and released statements of support.

Arlington

  • As noted above, Virginia legislators representing portions of Arlington (Sens. Adam Ebbin and Janet Howell) already have introduced bills supporting WEC’s legislative agenda. Other members of Arlington’s delegation (Sen. Barbara Favola and Dels. Patrick Hope and Alfonso Lopez) have issued statements of support.

I agree completely with Del. Hope that:

Virginia’s record of women’s equality is abysmal and we must do better. … [I want my daughters] to know a Virginia that shows no favoritism and gives everyone an equal opportunity to compete, be successful, and to make their own decisions.

WEC’s formation is a great step in the right direction for Virginia.

You can get more information and sign up as a WEC supporter at http://vawomensequalitycoalition.org/.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Mark Kelly — January 15, 2015 at 1:00 pm 1,074 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyDel. Rip Sullivan filed a bill to create a non-partisan redistricting process to draw the lines for representation in Richmond and Washington. The corresponding article here at ARLnow said it was a “long-shot” in the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

In reality, this bill is a long-shot under any party’s control in the General Assembly.

Back in 2011, Senate Democrats drew district lines that could only be explained by one thing — holding on to their tenuous majority. A non-partisan plan recommendation at the time would have created a single Senate district out of Arlington. In fact, Arlington is almost exactly the population of a Virginia Senate district according to the last census.

Instead, Senate Democrats carved Arlington into three districts, using the heavily Democratic tilt of the County to offset precincts all the way out to Loudon County to our West and Mount Vernon to our South.

How political is the process? At the time, Democrat Sen. Janet Howell “miraculously” found her announced opponent’s house drawn into the neighboring Senate district. This certainly did not happen by accident.

Ultimately, the Senate Democrats’ plan did not work as they lost most of the close contests in 2011, and then the outright majority earlier this year.

In the House, Sullivan’s predecessor Bob Brink was one of a handful of Democrats to vote for the Republican redistricting plan. Why? The 48th District was adjusted from the original Republican proposal to make it lean even more Democratic than it was before. Sullivan’s own special election results against a credible Republican challenger showed just how valuable Brink’s move was politically.

The larger point is the right to draw political boundaries has been determined by elections since the founding of our nation. While it may give an advantage to one political party over another for a short period of time, it has never led to a single political party shutting out another for long. The party out of control complains about “gerrymandering,” and then draws the lines to what they think will be their own political advantage when they are back in control. Often, they find themselves out of control a decade later under the new lines.

While voters when polled often say they favor non-partisan redistricting, just like they do with campaign finance reform, it is simply not an issue on which more than a handful of people make voting decisions. Redistricting reform makes for good talking points, press releases and news stories, but little else.

Delegate Sullivan’s constituents would be better served if he spent his time and energy working across the aisle on legislation that matters to their everyday lives.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Dakotah Smith — January 15, 2015 at 12:15 pm 1,444 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Dakotah SmithMany parts of our region have experienced a renaissance since I moved here six years ago. Neighborhoods once viewed as stagnant and neglected are being reimagined and revitalized. We see new destinations for employers and employees — around new transit stops or in areas where land is cheaper and road networks available.

New “it” places to work, live, meet friends and even to start families are coming onto the scene each year. Shaw, the D.C. neighborhood where I used to live, is but one of many examples. Young adults living in these neighborhoods are becoming engaged in their communities and putting down roots.

Will Arlington be able to keep pace? We have depended on a strong commercial sector to create great schools, fund popular services, build a safety net for those in need, and balance corridor growth with desirable neighborhoods.

I love Arlington, chose to live here, and have become a true advocate. Yet my enthusiasm for our diverse, enjoyable and convenient way of life is increasingly met with skepticism by colleagues who choose to remain downtown. And young adults who want to move outside of the District are increasingly looking beyond Arlington.

They will meet my enthusiasm for Arlington with remarks like “You’re just trying to rationalize” or “Why would I want to live there when there are so many other cool options?”

Whether we like them or not, these opinions matter. These are young people who are starting businesses, buying homes, energizing community organizations, and spending money at local shops, restaurants, and bars. They are the human capital upon which a county’s success is dependent.

Even as Arlington has attracted millennials over the past decade, we are now at risk of losing out to increasing successes of our surrounding jurisdictions. We’re surrounded by aggressive competition on all sides for business and employees — not just the hip D.C. scene but also Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince George’s County. Tysons Corner alone will expand dramatically over the next few decades with a vibrant, livable downtown based on transit-oriented and pedestrian-friendly development.

Similarly, our neighbors in Alexandria just secured a $50 million loan from the Commonwealth to build a new Potomac Yard Metro station that will support up to 26,000 new jobs within a quarter-mile of the station.

What drives the growth in each of these places is vibrant economic development that meets the needs of growing new companies and a workforce that places greater emphasis on mobility, flexibility, social responsibility, connectivity, and convenience.

These economic and social drivers motivate people of all ages and backgrounds to build communities that celebrate inclusion, opportunity, innovation and diverse interests.

In these changing times, we can no longer bank on our location near the District, lower rents, and reliability of federal and government contractor jobs as the keys to success. With reduced federal spending leading to commercial vacancies, we must be more creative in diversifying our economy, much as Gov. Terry McAuliffe is doing at the state level.

Our county leaders recognized this new economic reality in their January statements. We need them to take this problem very seriously and to tackle it aggressively. (more…)

by Larry Roberts — January 8, 2015 at 3:00 pm 693 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Larry RobertsArlington has come through a year of divisive political rhetoric no closer to addressing the key challenges that face our county. Hopefully, we will see in 2015 a renewed commitment to tackling those challenges through a united community and not a divided one.

These key challenges exist outside of political party, the neighborhood one lives in, and one’s preference on the mode of transit for the economically-challenged corridor from Potomac Yard to Skyline through Arlington.

The challenges are not the result of current county policies, county spending priorities, or county politics.

And many of the challenges are due to our successes and not our failures.

More often than not, they are a result of the increasing number of people who choose to live in Arlington because they value our schools, parks, services, cultural amenities, neighborhoods, transit-oriented development and transportation options, diversity, and overall quality of life. They also result from increasing residential property values due to the steady demand for Arlington residences. And they result from growing numbers of families with children in Arlington, something most would consider a sign of success.

At the same time, these challenges arise due to forces beyond Arlington’s control, including a dampening of county revenues and a weakening of Arlington’s commercial tax base — through cutbacks in federal spending (and the job security of federal workers), federal BRAC and sequestration actions that have moved jobs out of Arlington and reductions in federal office space, and state budget cuts. This is in addition to increasingly effective competition from the District of Columbia and other Northern Virginia jurisdictions for businesses, workers and entrepreneurs.

Due to their nature, I believe addressing these challenges requires looking beyond the divisive issues of the moment and overemphasizing the importance of county government operations.

These challenges will not be solved by government only and cannot be solved merely by scrutinizing government performance. While it is important to focus on county government spending, we would face the same challenges even if we could succeed in wringing out every last efficiency from county government.

We will instead solve them by focusing on enhancing our competitive advantages and advancing core values that make Arlington an attractive place to live — not just the important core services of public safety, education and transportation, and sound financial practices — but also recreation, parks, human services, environmental stewardship, housing affordability (not just for lower income people but also for workforce housing and helping people stay in Arlington as housing prices rise), arts and culture, and diversity.

Success in tackling our challenges must involve moving Arlington forward or we will inevitably fall back. Many have fond memories of a past Arlington they may prefer to the challenges of today, but I arrived in a 1970s Arlington with schools closed due to declining overall population and student population, businesses leaving, services declining, and weak economic performance.

Fortunately, Arlington had already made wise and forward-looking land use, transportation, and investment decisions that positioned it to take advantage of increases in defense spending, a recovering economy, a technology boom, and the growing importance of Northern Virginia. (more…)

by Peter Rousselot — January 8, 2015 at 2:30 pm 557 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotIt’s time for the County Board to adopt a new rule relating to significant Board votes.

Under the new rule, all critical supporting documents underlying any agenda item for which such a vote is scheduled must be sent to all Board members and posted on the county website at least 72 hours before the meeting at which the vote is scheduled.

At a minimum, a “significant Board vote” would include votes on any of the following:

  • Approval of any contract, agreement, appropriation, grant, plan, project or budget committing $1 million or more of taxpayer funds;
  • Site plans/Amendments Review;
  • Ordinances, Plans and Policies.

At a minimum, “critical supporting documents” would include all information, reports, presentations, or recommendations from county staff, consultants, advisory bodies, or applicants. Any history of previous Board votes on the item should be included.

Failure to comply with the proposed new 72-hour rule would require postponement of the Board’s vote on the item unless at least four Board members voted to waive the 72-hour requirement. Such waiver votes would only be justified in rare emergency situations.

Why the Board should adopt the new rule

Arlington voters and taxpayers have a right to transparent, complete and timely information with respect to significant government actions in order to have a fair opportunity to communicate with their elected officials before a vote is taken. Elected officials also ought to have complete, final information in a timely manner in order to make reasoned and effective decisions.

By definition, “significant Board votes” almost always rely upon very extensive and complex documentation. The new rule is necessary to improve county government’s transparency and accountability.

Why likely arguments against the new rule lack merit

The county manager, county staff and the county attorney likely will oppose the new rule. They may argue that it will require extra work. Such arguments lack merit. No extra work will be required. They just have to complete the same work earlier. Staff might contend that the County Attorney’s office is the bottleneck and extra staff will need to be hired. This is another false argument. Getting the material to the County Attorney earlier is the simple solution.

Though the manager and staff may also argue that Board members receive briefings about significant Board votes much earlier than the 72-hour rule would require, such arguments miss at least two critical points:

  • Even if such briefings occur, the public lacks the 72-hour minimum access to the underlying documentation that the rule would require, and
  • Last-minute substantive changes in the underlying documentation often deny such access to Board members themselves. 

Conclusion 

Adopting the new 72-hour rule offers far greater benefits–transparency and accountability–than any costs it might entail.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Mark Kelly — January 8, 2015 at 2:00 pm 521 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyLast Thursday, incoming County Board Chair Mary Hynes likened Arlington to a “Company Town” in reference to the federal government and its influence over our local economy. While the federal government does not provide all of the jobs, own all of the housing or run all of the stores, the concept Hynes referred to is something many of us have said for some time.

The federal government and its impact on Arlington is a constant. Washington, D.C., is the seat of power for our nation. It not only spends our tax dollars — federal tax revenue in the past fiscal year set a new record — but it attracts all of the lobbying shops, trade associations and law firms seeking to influence the spending of that money. And, it draws millions of tourists to our area.

Without the federal government, the spending decisions our County Board would have been forced to make during the economic downturn would have been more like those in the rest of the country. Despite a slowdown in revenue and fewer square feet of office space being leased by the government, Arlington still saw spending climb each and every year.

Yet, you would often hear the Board take credit for Arlington’s relatively unaffected economic status because of its own sound planning or prudent management. They rarely, if ever, credited the federal government as the reason for our overall economic stability.

The County Board has long been able to ignore a real review of what policies would make Arlington a better place to do business because they could rely on the old adage that in real estate it is all about location, location, location. With a 21.4 percent office vacancy rate — a rate that has been steadily rising — it looks like the old way of doing things cannot continue. It is particularly important to Arlington taxpayers moving forward because such a high percentage of Arlington’s tax revenue currently comes from the commercial property tax.

Yes, the impacts of BRAC closures did not help. No, it made no sense to move thousands of workers away from a Metro stop in Crystal City out to the Mark Center in Alexandria. But, we cannot reverse that decision now, and the Board has known it was coming for years.

Arlington will continue to get its fair share of tenants, both federal and non-federal, but our ability to compete effectively is an open question. Arlington needs to hang an open for business sign on its door.

We should not spend months or even years simply talking about it on a task force that leads to one or two cosmetic changes. That means taking real action as quickly as possible to address the needs of the business community, from tax rates or tax incentive, to zoning revisions, to streamlining permitting, to site plan negotiations.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Ethan Rothstein — January 1, 2015 at 3:00 pm 598 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark Kelly2014 certainly was an interesting year in Arlington, especially on the political front.

A Republican-turned-Independent won not one, but two elections. The budget-busting project that was the centerpiece of those two elections was then reluctantly canceled by the County Board.

Where do we go from here? Politically, what does this mean for the Garvey-Vihstadt alliance formed to stop the Columbia Pike trolley? Will Walter Tejada run for re-election, and, if so, what impact will being the lone holdout for the trolley project have on his prospects — including whether he will draw primary opposition?

The overriding question left for County budget watchdogs is whether the end of the trolley will spark a new era in fiscal responsibility or whether it was a one-time event?

The recent Signature Theater bailout was offset by the announcement that the Artisphere was slated to be closed in 2015. The Artisphere and its always suspect business plan was never going to stand on its own two feet despite repeated assurances from County Board members to the contrary. Hopefully Board Members will follow the County Manager’s recommendation to close it.

Then came the reminder the County was going to use our tax dollars to pay $350,000 to stick plastic in the water treatment plant fence next year. This is a drop in the bucket when it comes to money that could be better spent elsewhere, but certainly symbolic of too many Board priorities.

Speaking of priorities, will the aquatics center move forward in 2015 or will the Board give the controversial project longer to sit on the sidelines? And, when we go to taxpayers for bond approvals on major projects like this, should we require the Board to put them on the ballot as a separate question?

This leads to the next question for 2015, will an independent audit function ever truly get off the ground? Is it too much to ask that the County Board have an auditor who reports directly to them, rather than having findings filtered by the County Manager? Shouldn’t these spending decisions be subject to the highest level of scrutiny?

And when it comes to making spending decisions, will the Board look at the revenue estimating process? This process consistently underestimates revenue in order to give the County Board an excuse to collect more of our tax dollars and spend those dollars in the annual closeout process.

This morning at the annual Jan. 1 meeting, incoming Board Chair Mary Hynes said “Arlington stands at a crossroads.” She called on her colleagues to address the challenges that face us, among other things including rising school enrollment and vacant office space.

After the Macbook Air story over the summer, will the schools budget draw closer scrutiny from watchdogs next spring particularly as they are looking to meet new capacity needs?

Will the County Board solve the problem of the office vacancy rate by finding ways to make Arlington more business friendly from permitting processes to taxes instead of creating another task force or commission to talk about it?

In her speech Hynes also said we are “always better when we listen to each other.” Too often in the past that meant only listening to those who agreed with those in control of the Board. After voters spoke out this year at the ballot box, hope springs eternal that this time it will be different.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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